Updated: Feb 10
Most people think that weightlifting serves two purposes: to build bigger and stronger muscles. And while it’s true that these are the reasons why most exercisers engage in resistance exercise, emerging research has uncovered several surprising ways that strength training can improve your fitness and your health.
Below, four novel benefits of strength training have been briefly outlined. Each benefit features a link to further resources should you wish to explore the subject in greater depth.
Strength training benefit #1: Reduced injury risk
The first strength training benefit has little to do with improving physical performance. But reducing injury risk, a reported positive outcome of resistance training, can enable us to avoid common muscle strains and pulls that prevent us from keeping up our exercise routine.
Of course, the more consistent our training habits, the better chance we have of advancing our physicality. According to the ACSM (American College of Sports Medicine) developing ‘well-rounded’ fitness requires a 5- to 7-day-a-week training program consisting of cardio, resistance, and flexibility training (Exercise Physiology – Fifth Edition).
But how does strength training reduce injury risk?
Strengthen your connective tissues
According to a 2015 article, ‘performing resistance training exercises will cause muscular and tendinous adaptations,’ (Brumitt et al). These adaptations are advantageous as they strengthen the connective tissues while also increasing muscular density. And ‘extra muscle helps protect a joint against injury and aids joint stability,’ (Physical Fitness & Athletic Performance).
Interestingly, the above article also notes that as well as reducing injury risk, strengthening the connective tissues also ‘improves aspects of athletic performance.’ But more on that to follow.
Essential reading: Strength Training Anatomy
Strength training benefit #2: Improved bone density
‘Weight-lifting produces considerable stress on the musculo-skeletal system,’ (Physical Fitness & Athletic Performance). This may not initially sound like a positive attribute, but if performed in a controlled manner, the stress of resistance training strengthens bones. Studies have found that an increase in bone density provides a protective measure against fractures and osteoporosis.
‘Osteoporosis is a bone disease that develops when bone mineral density and bone mass decrease, or when the structure and strength of bone changes. This can lead to a decrease in bone strength that can increase the risk of fractures (broken bones),’ (National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Disease).
For example, one research team investigated the impacts of a strength training program on bone density in elderly subjects. After rounding up a cohort from local care homes, the researchers put the participants through a regime of resistance training. At the end of a 12-week-long program, the elderly weightlifters showed an improvement in the density of their skeletal system.
Stronger bones, fewer fractures
Furthermore, follow-up studies showed that the resistance trainers suffered fewer fractures and osteoporosis than the non-exercising control. This outcome is to be expected when we remember that, as well as increasing density, strength training also ‘increases bone protein and mineral content,’ (The Complete Guide To Strength Training).
In addition to strengthening bones and slowing (even preventing) the onset of osteoporosis, it’s been observed that ‘properly designed resistance training programmes may have the potential to improve postural defects,’ (Physical Fitness & Athletic Performance).
Strength training benefit #3: Slows ageing
For the time being, ageing is unavoidable. (I say ‘time being’ because, in The Future, Al Gore discusses the then-revolutionary new science of gene editing. In his fabulously interesting overview, Gore cites scientists proclaiming that one fine day ageing will be a thing of the past – at least for billionaires and the 1%).
Besides forgetting the names of your nearest and dearest, another annoyance of ageing is the inevitable decline of muscle tissue. Yep, sorry as I am to say it, the older we get the weaker we get. Boo!
But, until those gene-editing whiz kids cook up a way to thwart biology, and ‘market forces’ make the technology accessible for all, there are things we can be doing now that slow the ageing process. And you’ll be glad to know, those things don’t just involve crossword puzzles and Sudoku.
Stay younger for longer with strength training
An ever-growing body of research is showing that keeping fit and active (as well as transitioning to a plant-based diet) prolongs and extends youthfulness. However, as the author of The Complete Guide To Strength Training points out, ‘only strength training maintains muscle mass and strength as you get older.
Thus, the author concludes, participating in regular resistance workouts ‘is an excellent way of preserving’ strength, slowing the ‘reduction of metabolic rate,’ and ‘avoiding fat gain with age.’
Related: Explode your 1RM PB with this Stronglifts 5x5 Training Program
Strength training benefit #4: Improved sport & athletic performance
That strength training benefits physical performance has not gone unnoticed. ‘No sports performer,’ Norris proclaims, ‘neglects weight-lifting.’
Sports practitioners of all stripes are starting to take strength training seriously. This is because the right resistance program ‘could put the athlete on the medal rostrum, while the wrong one could leave them at the back of the field,’ (The Complete Guide To Sports Training).
The performance-promoting effectiveness of strength training is evidenced by the changing dynamic of how professional athletes prepare for competition. Prior to his world title bout against Anthony Joshua, Oleksandr Usyk was recorded pressing kettlebells, flipping tractor tyres, and power cleaning Olympic barbells.
For Usyk the strength training paid off as he took the title after 12 rounds of world-class boxing.
Power-strength training is fitting for a fighter, but what about other sports? Well, as Norris notes, even British lawn bowling teams incorporated resistance exercise into the routine before competing at the Commonwealth Games.
How does improving strength enhance performance?
Stronger muscles enable us to exert more force. Few would argue with that fact. But if we can maintain a similar overall body mass while increasing strength, our ‘power-to-weight’ ratio will go up.
Power-to-weight ratio is the all-important metric in many sports. A track cyclist that weighs the same as their competitors but boasts a higher power output will always enjoy an advantage. The same principle applies to running, rowing, and track and field.
In addition to tipping the scales in favour of power, strength training can be customised and tailored to support a broad range of fitness goals. For example, when Usyk was pressing kettlebells above his head, he was using a strength exercise to enhance his punching power. This is sometimes referred to as the ‘channelling process’ where strength gains are channelled into improving a specific sporting movement.
The final rep
In this article, we’ve looked at four strength training benefits and how they can improve our health and fitness. If you include resistance into your routine or embark on a strength program, you stand to gain some of the benefits outlined above.
Yet, before we wrap up with links to workouts and programs, it’s worth pointing out that strength training delivers even more benefits beyond those outlined above.
In The Complete Guide To Strength Training, the author begins the book with a list of the ‘numerous’ benefits ‘a ‘well-planned and well-executed strength training programme’ can bring about. The list:
More reasons to start strength training
Increased muscle mass and strength
Stronger tendons and ligaments
Increased metabolic rate
Reduced body fat
Reduced blood pressure
Reduced blood cholesterol and blood fats
Improved psychological well-being
Start your strength journey with these workouts:
Benefit #1: Reduced injury risk: ‘Performing resistance training exercises will cause muscular and tendinous adaptations.’ Brumitt J, Cuddeford T. CURRENT CONCEPTS OF MUSCLE AND TENDON ADAPTATION TO STRENGTH AND CONDITIONING. Int J Sports Phys Ther. 2015 Nov;10(6):748-59. PMID: 26618057; PMCID: PMC4637912. (Accessed 20 – 1 – 2023) Cited on: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4637912/
Benefit #2: Improved bone density: ‘Conclusion: Addition of weight-bearing exercise program to medical treatment increases BMD [bone marrow density] more than nonweight-bearing exercise in elderly subjects with osteoporosis. Furthermore, both weight-bearing and nonweight-bearing exercise programs significantly improved the QoL [quality of life] of patients with osteoporosis.
Outline of osteoporosis: National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Disease - https://www.niams.nih.gov/health-topics/osteoporosis
Bean. A. (2008) Strength Training: The Complete Guide To. A&C Black. London.
Watson A. W. S (1995) Physical Fitness & Athletic Performance. Longman. England.